To make true progress, don’t forget the people

On
15 October 1964, Khrushchev was deposed by Brezhnev in the USSR,
"Old" Labour won a narrow election victory and Harold Wilson became
Prime Minister. On this historic day, I passed my driving test, and four days
later I joined Ford. The stage was set for my motor industry career spanning
more than 36 years, the last 20 of them as personnel director of Peugeot.

The
personnel and, more specifically, the industrial relations environment of the
mid-1960s was vastly different from that of today. The "English disease"
of unofficial strikes, walk-outs, lock-outs and stoppages was endemic. I worked
in the Dagenham foundry at the time of levies, bureaucracy and excellent
training, and learned a great deal about the value of good communications. The
Government was heavily involved in industrial relations.

Wilson
gave way to Heath as I moved to Chrysler in 1969. It was an era of strikes and
wage freezes and trips to London to the Wages and Price Commission, the
three-day week and petrol rationing. At Chrysler in Coventry, the Meridian
Cooperative was refused further financial assistance to build Triumph
motorbikes. Chrysler UK, with almost 20,000 employees, looked doomed when in
1978 Peugeot stepped in and bought it for $1.

In
1979, Thatcher came to power ñ industrial relations were about to change
dramatically. The miners warmed up for their most ambitious dispute by turning
down a 20 per cent pay award. Thatcher pursued privatisation and over the
winter of 1984/85 won her biggest battle against Scargill and the miners.

The
stage was set for the most significant transformation of industrial relations
as the Conservative government introduced rafts of legislation to control
unions.

A
more significant trend had been emerging for the motor industry long before
Nissan opened its factory in Sunderland in 1986. Worldwide competition has
grown at unprecedented rates and the response had picked up pace in the
preceding 20 years. Today, more organisations in this country are genuinely
world class.

Advances
in Peugeot, with improved employee communication at its heart, have facilitated
the achievements of the individual’s potential. Employees are better informed
and so more receptive to the introduction of flexible working. Improved
productivity, reduced costs, outstanding quality and excellent industrial
relations brought the Peugeot 206 to our Ryton factory. We reorganised our
working week, introduced annualised hours and recruited 1,000 extra people to
work a Friday, Saturday, Sunday shift pattern. The resulting 35 per cent improvement
in production meant we had a seven-day week scheduled production operation in
the UK, the first in any European plant.

There
will be more developments to come that will shape the work of the personnel
department. But personnel professionals must always remember that at the heart
of the progress are, most importantly, the people.

By
Mike Judge, former personnel director, Peugeot

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